Wolf Stalks Artist in Denali

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The morning of my last full day to explore the park was the coldest yet, everything was bleached, whitewashed with frost. The chill melted in the morning sun as I made my final trip to Eielson. The road was tangled with buses, I carefully picked my way through the jams hearing the familiar drone of microphones explaining sights and admonishing rules. I soon gained open road and scanned the ridges and gullies of familiar terrain, Denali showed through a haze.

Wildflowers framing a clear creek surrounded by lush grasses caught my eye, I began tracing it on foot through a wide meadow my lens composed scenes to include Denali in the distance. Absorbed in my work I was unaware that the growing snarl of faraway buses were watching a wolf stalking in my direction. Mildly curious about the bus attraction I continued exploring. Retracing my steps toward the truck a quick movement at the top of a nearby knoll gave me pause. I caught sight of reddish brown fur as it moved slowly toward me, then the face of a wolf emerged our eyes locked we both stood still. The sound of my shutter broke the trance, the wolf lost interest changed direction and continued hunting. Back at my truck park rangers approached with concern that the wolf had been stalking me, warning the animal was habituated to humans and efforts were underway to discourage this activity.

Using caution wherever I hiked in the region for the rest of the afternoon, the wolf continued to appear seemingly out of nowhere surprising me. I felt relief as I watched him finally travel down a long ridge to the river valley below disappearing out of sight at a great distance, no longer visible in binoculars. My heartbeat slowly resumed a normal rate. The result are some great wolf shots to incorporate into a painting someday. Later, while cooking dinner at a remote pull-out I grew nostalgic that my time in Denali was ending. Tomorrow I close the cabin and prepare for a presentation at the Murie Science and Learning Center at the park entrance. My wolf experience was the perfect end to a incredible ten days.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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